Friday, February 26, 2010

The Victorian Stereograph

Stereoscopic Viewers and Stereo Views

After reading an article about stereo views in the current Victorian Homes magazine, it dawned on me: My fascination and infatuation with the Victorian era began when I discovered Victorian stereographs in the 1970's. When I picked up my first Holmes stereoscope, placed a card in the holder, peered through the dual lenses and saw real Victorians come to life before my eyes, I was hooked!

I began collecting stereoscopes and stereo cards, and whenever I saw a box full of them at an antique store or fair, I just had to look through the whole box. I collected all types of cards, and tried to find out as much as I could about their history. Stereography amazed me. Sure, I had Viewmasters when I was a kid, but I guess I was never impressed with the quality or the subject matter. Maybe I was drawn more to the Victorian stereo views because of my interest in both history and photography. Stereo cards were a very affordable way to collect early original photographic items, while peeking into an era long past.

Tabletop Stereoscope

First, a little history. Stereo photography came about not long after the dawn of photography itself. A stereoscope was on display at the Crystal Palace Exhibition in 1851, and Queen Victoria really took to the idea. Soon, stereoscopes became very popular in England. At first, they were made in the prevailing photographic medium, the daguerreotype. These were soon modified to become positive images on glass, and were viewed through Brewster stereoscopes, models with the light source coming from behind. In the late 1850's, Oliver Wendell Holmes invented a handheld stereoscope, which really took off in America. Paper card stereo views were produced from the early 1850's until the 1930's. Through the years, stereo views were made in almost every medium known to photography. Millions of different views were created throughout the world during the Victorian era.

From tabletop models, to backlit and handheld models, and even penny arcade models which stood on the floor and were loaded with hundreds of views to flip through, stereo photography was a hit. Every family had a viewer and some stereo views. Sets of stereo cards could be bought around different themes. The most widely successful theme was travel photography. The great stereoscopic manufacturers sent their photographers to all the corners of the world to bring back views. Other popular themes included comic views, natural and manmade disasters, the Civil War, exhibitions, and views of celebrities. Different types of stereographic cameras were also produced and perfected during this time. Stereo photography died out around 1930, then resurfaced in the 1950's when Viewmasters, Realist cameras and 3D movies were the rage.

Stereograph Collection

What makes a stereo view appear so realistic? We have two eyes, and because our eyes are separated by a couple inches, we see a slightly different image with each eye. The brain melds these images into something we can understand. This separation of our eyes helps us to judge spacial relationships of different objects to each other, because we can see slightly around the objects. Sometimes things in the foreground are so close we have to almost cross our eyes so as to bring both images from each eye into focus. Things in the middle ground are easier to see, and we can tell what items are in front of others. Objects that are a great distance away appear flat because both eyes are virtually seeing the same image, and there is no depth perception. Stereographic photography takes advantage of the way our eyes see two slightly different images. Two photographs are taken, one slightly to the right or left of the other. These images are mounted and viewed with a special viewer that allows the left eye to see one picture and the right eye to see the other. Your brain fuses these images together, just as it would if you were viewing the images live, and you get the effect of seeing the image as if you were really there.

In my next post, I'll talk more about the different types of Victorian stereo cards in my collection, and show you how to make and view your own stereographs!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Birthday, President Washington!

George Washington by Peale 1823

I learned some fascinating things about George Washington while doing my research for this post. Washington has had quotes attributed to him that simply aren't his, and has often been misquoted, or quoted out of context. I tried my best to double-check the quotes I posted here.

This February 22nd, spend some time learning a little bit about the Father of Our Country. And do check out my links at the bottom!

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My ardent desire is, and my aim has been... to comply strictly with all our engagements, foreign and domestic; but to keep the U States free from political connexions with every other Country. To see that they may be independent of all, and under the influence of none. In a word, I want an American character, that the powers of Europe may be convinced we act for ourselves and not for others; this, in my judgement, is the only way to be respected abroad and happy at home.

—Letter to Patrick Henry, October 9, 1775

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A hundred thousand men, coming one after another, cannot move a Ton weight; but the united strength of 50 would transport it with ease.

—Letter to Dr. William Gordon, July 8, 1783

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The best means of forming a manly, virtuous, and happy people will be found in the right education of youth. Without this foundation, every other means, in my opinion, must fail.

—Letter to George Chapman, December 15, 1784

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Perfection falls not to the share of mortals.

—Letter to John Jay, August 1, 1786

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Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.

—Letter to James Madison, March 2, 1788

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It should be the highest ambition of every American to extend his views beyond himself, and to bear in mind that his conduct will not only affect himself, his country, and his immediate posterity; but that its influence may be co-extensive with the world, and stamp political happiness or misery on ages yet unborn.

—Letter to the Legislature of Pennsylvania, September 5, 1789

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To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.

—First Annual Address, to both Houses of Congress, January 8, 1790

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In our progress toward political happiness my station is new; and if I may use the expression, I walk on untrodden ground. There is scarcely any part of my conduct which may not hereafter be drawn into precedent.

—Letter to Catherine Macaulay Graham, January 9, 1790

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I can truly say I had rather be at Mount Vernon with a friend or two about me, than to be attended at the Seat of Government by the Officers of State and the Representatives of every Power in Europe.

—Letter to David Stuart, June 15, 1790

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Observe good faith and justice towards all Nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all.'Tis our true policy to steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.

—Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

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The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries, which result, gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of Public Liberty.

—Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

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Citizens by birth or choice of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you, in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of Patriotism, more than any appellation derived from local discriminations.

—Farewell Address, September 19, 1796

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I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see a policy of a gradual Abolition of Slavery.

—Letter to Lawrence Lewis, August 4, 1797


Here are some great links about the life of George Washington:
Just type in "Washington Sets Presidential Precedents" into the American History search box next to the Liberty Bell. There you will find a really good video on how Washington set the guidelines for the way the presidency would be run. After you watch it, there are more interesting Washington videos to the right side of the window.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!

Valentine Vignette

May you all have a sweet Valentine's Day,
surrounded by the ones you love.

♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡♡

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Happy Birthday, President Lincoln!

Abraham Lincoln w-frame

Abraham Lincoln would be 201 years old this year. His work, writings and wit are well known. To honor him, here are a few of his quotes:
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Don't interfere with anything in the Constitution. That must be maintained, for it is the only safeguard of our liberties.
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Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.
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My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.
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Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as a heritage of all men, in all lands, everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors.
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Tact is the ability to describe others as they see themselves.
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The assertion that "all men are created equal" was of no practical use in effecting our separation from Great Britain and it was placed in the Declaration not for that, but for future use.
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The best way to get a bad law repealed is to enforce it strictly.
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We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution.
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With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan - to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace, among ourselves, and with all nations.
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A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure permanently half-slave and half-free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved - I do not expect the house to fall - but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.
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Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
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There are no accidents in my philosophy. Every effect must have its cause. The past is the cause of the present, and the present will be the cause of the future. All these are links in the endless chain stretching from the finite to the infinite.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

More about the Victorian Valentine

Best Wishes Valentine, close up

All images are original Victorian Valentines in my collection.
Please click on each to enter my Flickr page,
where you can view them at a much higher resolution!
There, you can click on the icon above each picture that says All Sizes.

When and where did St. Valentine's Day begin?

Ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia on February 14th. It was a festival that involved a lottery where young men and women were paired off. It was also believed that birds chose their mates for spring on February 14th!

To My Valentine, front

To My Valentine, detail

The legends of an early Christian martyr named St. Valentine cannot be proved. Some say St. Valentine was an early clergyman who performed secret marriages for Roman soldiers, who were banned from marrying during the reign of Claudius II.

Best Wishes Valentine, folded

Best Wishes Valentine, open

During the times of Chaucer and Shakespeare, romantic love became associated with our current notion of St. Valentine's Day. Eventually, the date of February 14th was again revived.

Heart Valentine, front

Heart Valentine, inside

Before 1800, Valentines were mostly handwritten love poems and notes of affection. Valentine cards became wildly popular in England after the turn of the 19th century, and mailing them became easier when the British government standardized postage rates.

Die-cut paper lace was invented in 1834. In the United States, Valentine cards were first printed commercially in 1846. Esther Howland was the young daughter of a well-established stationer in Worcester, Massachusetts. After receiving a beautiful Valentine card from England, she decided to produce a few on her own in 1847. Her business grew, and employed female workers who hand-assembled valentines cards. She eventually sold her business in 1881.

Girl Valentine, front

Girl Valentine, inside

Even though 19th century Valentine cards were mass-produced, they contained glued-on ribbons, scrap, feathers, beads, dried flowers and laces. Many have survived over time because they were cherished, and were pasted into scrap albums. They were works of art, often containing paper hinges that allowed layers of the Valentine to pop forward with a 3D effect, or pull forward using paper honeycombs, so they could be displayed on parlor tables.

After the turn of the 20th century and during the great World Wars, Valentine cards became a thing of the past. After WWII, the custom was revived as a way for school children to exchange cards, and today it has once again become an adult romantic holiday!

Some interesting facts:

• In Great Britain, gloves were a popular Valentine gift, and often were given as a marriage proposal.

• English illustrators Kate Greenaway and Walter Crane both created some of the more favorite and collectible Valentine cards.

• Richard Cadbury created the first Valentine box of chocolates in 1868.

NECCO (New England Confectionery Company) popularized the conversation candy hearts in 1902, but their predecessor came up with similar imprinted candies in 1866.

Be sure to check out these links to learn more about the history of the Victorian Valentine and to see some lovely examples:

Valentine Cards at the Lilly Library, Indiana University

Monday, February 1, 2010

Valentine's Day is Nigh!

Valentine Vignette

I love Valentine's Day. Especially now that I have a sweetie! For several years, I've driven to a mall about 15 miles away to buy my husband a beautiful big box of chocolates. He says the quality is superb, and I like saving the pretty boxes, which I keep and use to decorate the house in February. Some I hang on the wall, and others sit on easels wherever I can fit them!

Pink Heart Candy Box

Red Heart Candy Box

I also collect old and reproduction Valentines. The automobile and the 3-dimensional Valentine next to it are reproductions.

Reproduction 3D Valentines

One of my favorite antique Valentines is a card that has many layers on the front that you can pull forward for a 3-D effect. The inside has a beautiful verse. And I have the original envelope addressed to Miss Nellie Drollinger. The envelope also contains a notation from the person to which Nellie left the Valentine. Both card and envelope are extremely soft and delicate from age. I only display my older Valentines behind glass and away from sunlight!

With Love Valentine, front

With Love Valentine, detail

With Love Valentine, inside

With Love Valentine, envelope

Our cat Phoebe must make her appearance for Valentine's Day, for when we adopted her, she was named "Miss Love," and we soon found out why! She is the most loving little kitty and loves to sit on laps, especially when we're sitting at the computer. She would crawl up into our nostrils if she could!

Phoebe Delphinium

Next time, I'll include more pics of some antique Valentines and a little history of Victorian Valentine customs.
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